Director: Quentin Dupieux
Cast: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Robert, Wings Hauser, Jack Plotnick
Watch Rubber online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
If anyone was going to make a film about a rubber tyre blowing people up, it would have to be Quentin Dupieux. He’s French, he did that Flat Eric thing, and he’s clearly bonkers. With Rubber, he’s made a movie that’s as much about a killer tyre as it is about watching movies. It’s an unusual approach for a modern B-Movie, but one that gives it a unique edge. That and the fact that it’s about a tyre that kills people.
Rubber starts off as it means to go on – with a surreal shot of chairs sitting alone in a desert. A car drives up, knocking them all over, before Lieutenant Chad (Spinella) climbs out of the boot and delivers an amusing monologue to the audience. Yes, that’s the audience we’re sitting in, but also the audience of randomers gathered in the desert and given binoculars to watch the film unfold live. We’re all told the same thing: cinema has an inherent lack of reason, and Rubber is an homage to precisely that.
Then things get really special as we meet sentient tyre Robert (played by himself). Lying half-buried in the sand, he awakens one day and starts rolling around. He wobbles at first, slowly gathering pace, then he gets to grips with his telekinetic powers and begins bouncing all over the place. Then he sees a rabbit and blows its head off. It’s like the opening of Bambi. If Bambi was a killer inflatable tyre.
Playfully contrasting the ridiculous with the mundane, Rubber unfolds its off-the-wall idea with a completely straight face; a brilliant example of Buñuel-esque absurdist cinema. Stephen Spinella is perfect as the deadpan bewildered cop, trying to stop the evil psychic wheel bumping off the local human population. He also functions as the film’s producer, trying to halt events by killing his audience in the desert using the movie’s deranged accountant (Plotnick).
Dupieux cuts between the two narratives, loving his meta-cinema almost as much as his main character. Wonderfully manipulated by hand and remote control, Robert has a well-crafted personality, mostly thanks to Dupieux’s careful direction. Shooting on digital but focus pulling the hell out of each frame, he captures the treads on the tyre as closely as the expansive widescreen landscape.
The low-level handhelds actually share Robert’s sense of excitement, as well as his obsession with lonely brunette Sheila (Mesquida). Add in Quentin’s textbook editing (one montage sees Robert reflecting upon his memories in the mirror) and a healthy dose of the red stuff and you’ve got some striking visuals that elevate the trashy concept way above its station.
Should it be left as a 20 minute short instead of stretched out to 82 minutes? Perhaps, but that’s partly the point. One debate halfway through about whether an on-set corpse is actually dead or not (depending on if there’s an audience watching) is full of knowing wit – even the film’s smug self-awareness ends up as part of the joke. You could get annoyed by the constant film-school obsession with breaking the fourth wall, but it’s done with a tongue stuck so firmly in cheek that you’ll be entertained rather than frustrated. That and you totally get to see a tyre blow people’s heads off.